Ok, so I admit that when I first dove into the music of the Duke I was totally confused, befuddled and not quite sure what was going on. Most of the first disc was instrumental..which was fine..I kinda knew the Duke was a jazz legend so I kinda figured he was playing the trumpet. Of all the instruments in the music it was the strongest and usually the center of most pieces. Then I hit a run of songs with lyrics....was that a lady singing? yeah and then a string of songs each with a different male voice..then a few with no trumpet at all. I had no idea what the hell was going on. As is my habit each month I go in blind to get the music at face value and then after my first impression is formed I back it up with research and digging around about the artist. That left me woefully unprepared this time and set me up for a cool surprise. You see, after my initial bout of cluelessness I did what I always do when I know less then I need to; I Googled it!!!
What I found was a bit of a shock for a brain that has a certain set of expectations set by a modern understanding of music and how the industry works. You see, Duke Ellington wasn't any of the singers, nor did he play the trumpet and while he did in fact play the piano in most of his works it was usually a tempo setter to show off the stylings of his musicians. You see the Duke was a composer and a conductor. His legendary status is as a band leader. I mean sure I heard of Big band but I never gave it much thought as being anything but an outdated, has been genre that was never that cool to begin with. Man, was I wrong. the Duke IS jazz music and he and his orchestra defined the genre from their pit in Harlem's legendary Cotton Club.
As a modern music lover I can't say I give much thought to composers. They are all moldy dead guys who used to wear white wigs and say guvner alot, right? Sure, we have a few today but they mostly score our movies or run in tight insular circles that don't really affect pop culture all that much.And conductors? really? Last one I saw was on a train! Goes to show how little I know about music history. It turns out back in the day the composer/conducter was THE man. You could be the best trumpet player in the world, Scott Joplin on the ivory or have a set of pipes like Ella Fitzgerald but if a band leader didn't invite you into his pit then you weren't making music...at least not on a national stage. Of course that changed as the singer/song writer dynamic we know today came to life but the cool thing is that the Duke never sold out. He stuck with his orchestra and led it for 53 years!! he took the hit in popularity and loss of audience in the 60's and kept on going until he came out the other side a living legend.
Not only are the tunes cool but I also had the chance to question my conception of music and stretch my understanding of the world. If that isn't what this project is all about then I don't know what is.